Performance Schedule:
March 15 - 25, 2001
The Annex Theatre
Thursday - Sunday 7:30pm
Sunday Matinee at 2:30pm

Many followers of World Theater feel that in the last few years, the Slovenian cultural scene has been the most dynamic and intriguing in post-"Berlin Wall Europe." The latest of that scene to reach our shores will be the American debut of Theatre Mladinsko from Ljubljana, Slovenia, in "Silence Silence Silence," an imagistic, movement-based work in five visual "sequences" directed by Vito Taufer.

La MaMa has been America's primary entry point for many exciting, brash, young theater groups from Central and Eastern European countries, but the debut of Theatre Mladinsko has been a source of particular anticipation for insiders there. The excitement stems from the three times since 1994 when Betontanc, another young, impertinent movement theater group from Ljubljana, Slovenia, took La MaMa's Annex Theater--and American audiences--by storm with a series of hard-hitting, high-risk works.

"Silence Silence Silence" is an extraordinary and beautiful work of dream images, anthropological fantasies and myths. It debuted in 1996 in Ljubljana and was awarded Special Prize of the Jury in that year's Bitef Festival (Belgrad, Yugoslavia) and Grand Prize in the 31st Borstnikovo srecanje in Maribor, Slovenia.

The play is divided into five episodes of imagistic, slow-motion movement theater, each staged with a delicate soundscape that includes heartbeats, air sounds and soft instrumental music. With keenly skillful movement, six actors "break through" silence, both real and metaphorical, in elaborately-designed scenes that nearly defy realistic description. In each scene, the characters are only partly human. A man with a cephalic globe mask (the sky or sun?) appears to unite with the earth (creation?). In a subsequent image, filaments or wings appear on him, suggesting the struggle to evolve out of a cocoon, possibly insinuative of evolution (anthropologic or political, we are not sure). A mother earth or Lilith figure with bulging eyes, wrapped in Aluminum foil, shatters the silence with her piercing voice. A lumbering man appears to experience the primal apprehension of beauty. A brick wall (the wall of time?) shatters around a man who has broken through it. The man, his mask like the letter A, leaps about defiantly, smashes rocks together, then seems anguished as he rants and howls. Overall, there are hints of the pain of awakening from darkness--the darkness of inertia, totalitarianism or ideology.

Vito Taufer, a resident director at Mladinsko Theatre, is well-known and highly respected in Europe. With "Silence Silence Silence," he intended to invent a language of abstract theater that was not realistic or mimetic, but rather a "poetry of images" that could be read in different ways, as with written poetry. Slovenia, Taufer explains, has a strong German/Russian tradition of "theater as history or politics," but he strove to distance himself from that. He wanted his actors to be collaborators from the beginning and not "readers of texts." He began the project by giving each of them two weeks to create a mask through which the audience would be able to grasp their essence as performers. Says Taufer, "a performer's language is him or her, on stage, their presence, and I wanted to catch that." He says his job, in the beginning, is to watch for their subconscious messages.
Another powerful influence on the piece was a widespread feeling among Slovenes during the recent Yugoslavian conflicts: the idea that "we are condemned to be separated" and "whatever we do, there will be an infinite silence and distance between us." Taufer sensed that Sarajevo, after the bombings, dwelt somewhere "in a hole, completely isolated, lonely" and that "indescribable, terrible things were happening there and there is nothing you can do or say about it." The situation recalled Hamlet's statement, "The rest is silence." From that notion, the title was born.

"Silence Silence Silence" debuted in Ljubljana in February, 1996, and won for Mr. Taufer both The Borstnik Award and the Special Award of the jury at BITEF Festival, Belgrade. It has since toured through Europe and South America. O Estado de Sao Paolo, Brazil perceived the play as embodying "a silence that bears within itself the rage of the universe." El Pais, Spain, called it "...fantastic elements of black theatre elevated into surrealism and fused with the brutality and experimental heritage deeply marked with neoexpressionistic dance, centered towards total art, serious and deep." Other provocative critiques called it "the staging of the breath" (Delo, Slovenia), "a journey into eternity" (Vecer, Macedonia), "the dark and inexpressible essence of human existence (Makedonia, Greece) and "as if it were from another world" (Ekstra Bladet, Denmark).

Taufer's direction and other experimental theatre creations have been awarded four gold laurels at MESS Festival, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He won the Preseren Fund Award for stage direction in 1989 and 2000. His comedic productions have earned the Best Comedy Awards at Days of Comedy Festival, Celje, Slovenia and the Golden Laughter Award in Zagreb, Croatia. He was born in Ljubljana in 1959, and is a graduate of the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television there. Before the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Mr. Taufer directed in theatres of all the republic. His most recent work, "Drrream," premiered in 2000 at Mladinsko Theatre.

Mladinsko Theatre has been at the peak of the Slovenian theater scene for more than two decades. Its politically provocative, beautifully imaginative theater experiments have earned it a special national significance and an outstanding international reputation. The company consciously innovates new theater styles and has been highly influential, both in Slovenia and throughout the former Yugoslavia. Its prominence has validated Slovenian theater in Europe and the world.

The actors of "Silence Silence Silence" are: Janja Majzelj, Janez Skof, Uros Macek, Natasa Sultanov, Ravil Sultanov and Robert Prebil. "Body language" is by Marko Mlacnik. "The sound of silence" is by Marinka Postrak. "The sound of space" is by Rae Smith. "The covering of nakedness" is by Alan Hranitelj. Music by W.A. Mozart is played by pianist Bojan Gorisek. Darkness design is by Benjamin Ormerod and Matja Brisar. Make-up designis by Barbara Pavlin. Sound design and montage are by Silvo Zupancic. Stage manager is Janez Pavlovcic.


"Theater Mladinsko at La MaMa"

Visual imagery and sustained physical theater were the hallmarks of Theater Mladinsko of Slovenia, which presented Vito Taufer's "Silence Silence Silence" on Sunday night in an American debut season. The central conceit of the piece, which is divided into five sequences set to roaring, thudding and reverberating sounds and an interlude of taped piano music, is breaking through real and metaphorical silence.

That theme is clearest in the powerful final section, in which a man (Robert Prebil) breaks through a wall and moves slowly forward, uttering harshly inarticulate sounds. Reaching a rock pile, he picks up two stones and begins to slam them together, then hunches over and begins to weep. Finally he howls into the air, communicating a terrible helplessness.

The lighted wall through which he breaks, which suggests a safe and comfortable home, is a magical image. As visually strong though less ambitious is another sequence in which an unkempt hulk (Ravil Sultanov) rocks a large crate across the floor. A huge ball of white tulle pushes out when he rips the box open. Two long shapely legs and a pretty ballerina's head emerge from the tulle. Like the mad doll maker in the ballet "Coppélia," the man brings the woman (Natasa Sultanova) to unexpected life.

Founded in 1955 as a children's theater, Mladinsko moved into experimental theater in 1975. Some of the performing needs to be more intensely concentrated. At times in the other three sequences, one feels less the emotion and presence than effect and intellectual underpinnings. But each is visually strong, despite gaudily glowing scenery elements.

The piece will be repeated through Sunday at La MaMa (74A East 4th Street, East Village).

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